National Ostomy Awareness Day

Unless you have first-hand experiences with an ostomy procedure, you probably know little about it. National Ostomy Awareness Day aims to bring about the understanding of the life-saving surgery and recognize the millions of Americans who have benefitted from it.

So, what is an ostomy? Sometimes it is necessary to change how waste, urine or stool, is removed from the body. Ostomy procedures offer a solution. Common reasons for the surgery include trauma and diseases like cancer, diverticulitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Through an opening, or stoma, in the abdomen waste can be diverted from the original path and collected in a small pouch.

An ostomy is sometimes temporary, allowing time for the normal pathways to heal. It may also be permanent, as a solution to a health problem. In either situation, an ostomy affords the patient a relatively normal day-to-day life. You may be in contact with people living with the device, unaware they are using it, as they live seemingly active normal lives.

"One of the most common concerns for those facing life after an ostomy procedure is that you will need to make dramatic changes to your lifestyle," says Heather Kisamore of Penn Highlands Healthcare. "...that you will need to stop doing the things that you love to do." A misconception, explained Kisamore, "Most patients continue to be active, living a fulfilling life with little disruption," adding, "even professional athletes who continue to compete."

Heather Kisamore, BSN, RN, CWOCN, is a Certified Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurse at The Wound Clinic of Penn Highlands DuBois. A member of the WOCN, the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses, Society, her specialized training and continuing education have proven to be valuable resources to area residents.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers two unique services, improving the lives of area ostomy patients: Ostomy Clinic Day, available weekly, and an Ostomy Support Group, meeting monthly.

In recognition of National Ostomy Awareness Day on October 5, Kisamore explained the two services, assets to patients, facing life with an ostomy.

Every Thursday, the Wound Center at PH DuBois East provides Ostomy Clinic Day. This service provides patients, requiring ostomy attention, the unique care that is often required to resolve ostomy issues. These issues may include device problems, like leakage or choosing the correct supplies and products.

“There are different options for devices and accessories. We are here to help the patients choose the right products, find specialty items offer alternatives and give instruction on their use," Kisamore said, adding, "Devices are being continually improved and updated. With these latest products, we are miles from where we were, even a few years ago."

Additionally, Ostomy Clinic Day provides attention to some of the more pressing issues that ostomy patients may be experiencing. Discomfort and site irritation, where the skin around the ostomy may be red or moist, requires specialized care. Additional issues that should be addressed are chronic leakage and the need for frequent changing. Kisamore advises, "You should resolve these problems before they lead to something larger or force you to stay at home, in fear."

"While all nurses have basic training and provide excellent care to ostomy patients," Kisamore explains, "very few receive specialized training, and their experience in the specific area of ostomy may sometimes be limited; so the Ostomy Clinic Day is a special service."

The Ostomy Support Group, the second specialized program for ostomy patients at Penn Highlands, is the only one of its kind in the region. While the Wound Center and practitioners address the medical needs of patients, there are sometimes social and emotional concerns associated with having the ostomy procedure.

Many of the group's attendees are newcomers, but many more have been living post-ostomy for several years. These experienced members are willing to help by sharing their experiences and listening to the fears and concerns of those who have had the procedure more recently.

“After almost 10 years of service, we have a core group of patients that attend regularly," said Kisamore. "People facing life with an ostomy, whether temporary or permanent, have many questions and concerns. We are here to provide them with the resources and information they need."

The support group is free, regardless of where a patient receives their care. The meetings are held April through June and September through November, on the first Tuesday of each month at noon in the Central Resource Center at Penn Highlands DuBois West, 204 Hospital Ave., DuBois.

Informal, roundtable discussions include a variety of topics and new product demonstrations. Also, attendees have the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with Kisamore.

Family members and caregivers are encouraged to attend with their loved ones. The meetings foster an atmosphere of support that is extremely beneficial to the patient and a perfect way to gain knowledge about life with an ostomy.

The Support Group is an affiliate of the United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. UOAA, a nonprofit organization, supports and advocates for people who have had or who will have ostomy or continent diversion surgery.

Kisamore stressed the benefits of these services, "regardless of your stage in ostomy care, whether you are new, or have lived with an ostomy for a long time. Even for pre-ostomy patients, there is a dramatic increase in success rates when pre-op teaching is sought."

For more information about the Ostomy Support Group, or to make an appointment, please call The Wound Center at 814- 371-4320 or call Kisamore directly at 814-375-3056.